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Do poverty figures disguise island realities?

SHETLAND has the lowest level of child poverty in Scotland, but around 400 local kids (10.6 per cent) are growing up in deprivation.

A report from the End Child Poverty coalition, published on Tuesday, shows that across Scotland one in three children live in poverty. In Shetland, the rate of deprivation has gone slightly up from 10.07 per cent in 2014 to now 10.6 per cent. 

However the local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and isles MSP Tavish Scott point to the higher cost of living in remote islands, which is not accounted for within the statistics.

The Lerwick-based CAB said the latest figures, though better than those for the rest of Scotland, were nevertheless “worrying” and highlighted the problems that many local families face.

Broken down to the seven local council wards, Shetland Central had the highest rate of child poverty at 17 per cent, while about six per cent of kids living in Shetland West were affected by poverty.

Other figures are: North Isles 9.3 per cent, Shetland North 10.98 per cent, Shetland South 8.29 per cent, Lerwick North 9.5 per cent and Lerwick South 13.8 per cent.

CAB’s assistant office manager in Shetland, Paula Dunn, said: “While poverty rates may be lower in Shetland, the impact of poverty on issues like transport, fuel poverty and the affordability of goods is likely to be felt more keenly.”

MSP Tavish Scott.

“Young people affected by poverty may not be able to access the opportunities around them, or feel part of their community, which can have an impact on their self-esteem and mental health.”

She said that the local office helped 2,871 clients with 7,410 pieces of advice. This generated financial gain of half a million pounds for these clients.

“At CAB, we see first-hand the impact that living on low incomes has on families who are having to make tough decisions about which bill to pay and what to do without,” the spokeswoman said.

“Often people are on the edge of managing and it can take just one unexpected bill or a period of illness to tip them over into debt.”

MSP Scott added that national figures tended to disguise the reality of island poverty.

“Recently published work on tacking inequalities across Shetland shows that these national figures tend to disguise the significance of the challenge,” he said.

“While Shetland’s numbers are lower than other parts of Scotland we still have families and children dealing with very difficult challenges.

“I am concerned that national funding to close the attainment gap in schools does not recognise the reality of island poverty.

“So these figures will help in making the case to the government for a better way to target resources on families most in need.”

The figures contained in the report from the End Child Poverty campaign are based on tax credit data, used to estimate the percentage of children with parents on low incomes. Households in poverty are generally defined to be living on 60 per cent or less of the national average income.